I was listening to Sportsradio the other day, I believe it was the Dan Patrick show. Normally, I don't like that show too much but an interesting topic came up for debate: what was worse, Tim Donaghy's gambling or Steroids? To me, this question was two-fold: (1)which was worse for it's respective game's image, and (2) which was worse from a moral standpoint (i.e. who's a worse person for his deeds, Tim Donaghy or Roger Clemens)? I will address each element of the question separately.
The Image Debate
Basketball's image took a major image hit when news of Tim Donaghy's fixing of games was announced. To make matters worse, Donaghy has hinted on multiple occasions that he was not the only referee who was involved in the fixing of games. Stern quivered from his tanning bed when it became clear that a fraternity of cheaters may exist within his game's officiating ranks. Joe from Sacramento probably wonders whether the hated Lakers had any help when they beat his Kings in 7 games in 2002. Ken from Dallas wants to know if Dwyane Wade really earned all those free throws in the 2006 NBA Finals. These questions are probably warranted, and provide some credence to those NBA fans that perenially cry about the unbalanced officiating when their teams lose. Overall, however, I don't think fans have totally lost their trust in the relevance of NBA officiating. I have not heard about any decline in the league's fan base. This, of course, could change dramatically if more names come out with Donaghy's dirty laundry or the outcomes of key playoff games come into question. That remains to be seen.
As for baseball, the game's image has slowly gone down the tube ever since Canseco's book hit newstands. Baseball, more than any other game, is about tradition. It's not so much that fans hate the players for their disregard for the games rules (or the law), rather that they hate the players for disrespecting the game's heritage & traditions that come along with it. Basketball records are generally viewed with the mindset of: "records are established to be broken." Baseball records, on the other hand, are generally viewed as sacred. When players are nearing a milestone (with the exception of Cal Ripken, Jr.), there is an equal body of fans who are rooting against the player who is about to break the record. For whatever reason, baseball records are viewed as untouchable, and for commemoration on grainy black-and-white film, not in high-definition. Furthermore, steroids/performance enhancing drugs became a widespread epidemic in baseball, whereas we are only aware of one "bad apple" who fixed basketball games. Any extraordinary season between 1990 and 2007, whether spoken out loud or not, comes with an asterisk in the minds of baseball fans. For these reasons, I think baseball's image has been hurt far worse than basketball's.
The Moral Debate
There is no question that both of these series of actions were wrong -- that cannot be debated. They represented cheating in the purest sense of the word.
In baseball, some of the game's most prominent spokespeople were caught dead in their tracks after blatantly lying to cover up previous lies that covered up more previous lies. Roger Clemens & Rafael Palmeiro, to name a few, looked foolish on national TV and in front of a judge and jury. Not only did they commit perjury, but they also defrauded fans, coaches, and fellow players by using illegal substances to gain competitive advantages. What kind of example does that set for young baseball fans that have these players posters hanging from their bedroom walls? Despite Charles Barkley's famous "I'm not a role model" quote, Charles, Roger, and Rafael are all role models. It's selfish, childish, & cowardly for these players to shy away from that responsibility. It's a shame that these players were given everything the material world has to offer -- yet fail to recognize or honor that responsibility. It comes with the territory -- and it's exactly the reason these players pursued major league careers in the first place. They watched their role models (former athletes) and followed in their footsteps. Earth to Charles, but every job comes with some degree of responsibility that we don't necessarily ask for. Deal with it, I think you've got a pretty sweet gig. By cheating, acting illegally, and lying, steroid-using players set a horrendous example for young fans -- and that is inexcusable.
As for Donaghy, most of the above baseball discussion is true -- but to a lesser degree in my opinion. I'm pretty sure there aren't any young children with Tim Donaghy posters in their bedrooms, unless he is standing behind Kobe with whistle in mouth. So in this regard, his actions didn't have the same universal impact. However, what he did had an additional impact of its own that cannot be easily measured. That impact, stemming from his immoral acts, was financial. We have all heard about the handful of bookies that profited handsomely from the games he swayed. In all reality, however, their financial gains mostly repaid debts already owed to them by Donaghy. What we haven't heard about is all the people who were clueless about his scandalous work when they bet on the games in question. The reason we haven't heard about these people is because a definitive listing of tainted games has not been released to the public. When and if this happens, my money says those betters who lost on the over/under are going to be in the national spotlight. There will probably be some nasty lawsuits flying around if this ever happens. I'm not an expert on the sports betting world, but I do know that thousands of people rely upon sports betting as their primary source of income -- right or wrong. As such, Donaghy's "playing God" may have put some individuals in some serious financial trouble (not unlike the trouble he was in himself). Although nobody knows how much was really lost at this stage, I think it's safe to say this is a real issue.
Due to the financial implications and possible hardship that he caused to countless individual betters, I believe Donaghy's actions were worse from a moral standpoint. To solidify this position, I'll also point out that many players used performance enhancing drugs when they were still in a sort of "gray" territory -- Team Management & the league seemed to be turning their backs on the prevalance of usage. Fixing games, by all accounts, was and is wrong.
Where Should they Go from Here?
One caller to the Dan Patrick Show made an excellent point regarding the Donaghy issue: the NBA reviews game tape and essentially grades referees on their performance each game. These ratings should be made public, just like a box score is available to critique the players' performance. This would help to do away with some of the bellyaching that takes place regarding officiating by the fans of losing teams. It would help to do away with the notion that the NBA is willing to do anything in (or out of) its power to ensure a Lakers-Celtics final. It would provide the type of transparency that is desperately needed in the aftermath of the Donaghy scandal.
Baseball is screwed. The best way to mitigate any future damage would be to stop the blame game. If players want to go public about their own steroid usage, so be it. But continuing to investigate even after the Mitchell Report can only bring the sport more harm. Instead, they should focus on ramping up the random drug testing program and set the proper tone at the top.